EU publishers blast Apple's iPad subscription plan

The iPad faces more criticism over its newspaper subscriptions policy

European publishers have added their voice to the chorus of criticism surrounding Apple's plans for iPad newspaper subscriptions.

Until now, many consumers have been able to read newspapers on their iPad. But newspaper publishers claim Apple has informed them that free access to their publications via the iPad would end, with subscribers able to access to such publications only through its iTunes store -- where Apple charges a 30 percent fee. The Belgian authorities are already investigating the matter following complaints from Belgian publisher Roularta and Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad in January.

Apple's plan would disrupt the relationship between publishers and their readers, said the European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA). "Without direct access to their subscribers, this vital bond between newspapers and readers would be broken, to the detriment of both."

It added that newspaper publishers should have freedom of choice of payment systems for their readers and the possibility to negotiate pricing levels for their digital publications. The ENPA represents more than 5,200 national, regional and local newspaper titles, published in 23 European Union countries.

Apple launched the iPad in Europe last May, nearly tripling European sales of tablets within just one month. Worldwide the iPad currently holds almost 90 percent of the tablet PC market. But with such spreading disapproval of the technology giant's strategy, Apple could find itself under investigation by the European Commission, the E.U.'s antitrust regulators.

Meanwhile, there is evidence that the Commission is concerned about the falling revenue predicament newspapers currently find themselves in. "We believe content should be taxed the same way, whether is printed or in tablets," said Jan Truszczynski, the Commission's education and culture director-general, on Wednesday, indicating that a review of the current VAT (Value Added Tax) rates could be possible.

Currently, online media are charged higher VAT rates than their printed competitors in almost all E.U. countries, according to the ENPA. A Commission consultation on the possibility of harmonizing VAT across the E.U. is under way. Interested parties have until the end of May to submit opinions.

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Jennifer Baker

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